Discover Aquatic Life in Winter

Winter in North Carolina means shorter days and colder nights, a time when you might be spending more time indoors or bundling up to brave the drop in temperature.  But what does winter mean for our aquatic animal neighbors? You might be surprised to discover that the winter is still an active time for many critters. 

Macroinvertebrates

Water gets cold more slowly than air, which means fish, macroinvertebrates, and other aquatic creatures remain active even as the air temperature drops. You may still find mayfly, dragonfly, stonefly and other macroinvertebrates when sampling in the winter. Some people even prefer to look for these tiny animals in this season because they move slower and spend more time hiding under leaves and rocks.

Stoneflies overwinter as aquatic nymphs and continue growing even as water temperatures approach freezing. (photo courtesy of thecatchandthehatch.com)

Get involved: Macroinvertebrates are important water quality indicators and can help us assess stream health. Join or create an NC Stream Watch group to collect and submit macroinvertebrate data to a statewide citizen science effort! To learn more about the importance of clean water for macroinvertebrates, check out this video by the town of Chapel Hill’s stormwater department that talks about macroinvertebrates and dissolved oxygen

Salamanders

Many salamander species are still active during North Carolina winters. You can spot red-back salamanders, lead-back salamanders, and maybe even the notoriously elusive marbled salamanders under logs in wet woodland areas. They are especially active during warm and rainy winter nights. Marbled salamanders breed in the winter, laying their eggs in ephemeral (temporary) woodland ponds. 

The beautiful Marbled Salamander is the state salamander of North Carolina.

Get Involved: Interested in going winter herping? Check out The Wild Report’s video on going winter salamander hunting in the Piedmont.  download the iNaturalist app to help with species ID and track the salamanders and other animals that you find along the way! If you are a new iNaturalist user, you can reference this previous blog post for some helpful tips and tricks.

Water Birds

Winter is a time that many birds migrate to North Carolina to overwinter. Buffleheads, pied-billed grebes, coots, ring-necked ducks and hooded mergansers are some of the inland waterfowl you might spot on a nearby pond or lake. If you live on the coast, you might spot  gannets, loons and wrens near the shore.  Some bird species even mate and lay eggs in the winter! If you listen closely, you might be able to hear the nasal sounding mating call of a male woodcock on a mild January night. Woodcocks live in shrubby forests and grasslands near water. 

Male buffleheads are easily identified by their large white crown. (photo courtesy of  allaboutbirds.org)

Get Involved: Ready to do some winter birding? Be sure to download the E-Bird app before you go. E-bird allows you to easily track, record, and ID the birds you find. To read more about winter birding in North Carolina, check out this page on the Bird Watcher’s Digest.

These animals need clean water to survive or thrive (like us!) Help protect critters by doing your part to keep stormwater clean.

out of focus lights on rainy weather

Featured Art from Streets to Creeks

Thank you to all who submitted to our stormwater art contest which ran from August 5th to September 5th. Over the fall and winter months, we will be featuring submissions as our website headers. Maddie, our week 2 winner, took the photo that is featured as our new website background!

Winners will receive CWEP giveaways including a set of reusable straws. Check out our virtual gallery below to see the artwork submissions. 

Below are the announcements of our winners! Congrats to all of you. Scroll through to see photos of the artwork and descriptions from the artists of what inspired their piece.

Streets to Creeks Stormwater Art Competition

When? August 5-September 5th, 2020

Who? Open to all ages!

To celebrate National Water Quality Month, the Clean Water Education Partnership invites you to create an art piece that shows how you interact with your watershed. A watershed is an area of land that all drains to the same creek, stream, or river. Everyone lives in a watershed!

Your art piece must somehow incorporate the name of the watershed you live in. Type your address into this interactive map to find your watershed.

Or, you can discover your river basin (a larger-scale watershed) by looking at this interactive map.

 Get inspired by a few of these ideas:

  • Use non-toxic sidewalk chalk to draw a watershed message to others in your neighborhood
  • Create a poster with cool facts and photos from your watershed that you can share with others
  • Draw or take a picture of one of your favorite plants or animals in your watershed
  • Make a sculpture out of litter you find in your watershed

A stormwater art installation that doubles as a rainwater harvester (Binford Green Schools Initiative, Chesepeake Bay)

“Protect our Watersheds” art competition submission (Pennsylvania American Water)

 Your art piece can be in any medium you choose as long as you can take a photo of it.

Winners will have a photo of their art piece featured as the homepage header on the CWEP website and receive a CWEP Swag Bag with fun giveaways in the mail. Art will also be used by CWEP to create a set of greeting cards for our fall BioThon competition. 1st, 2nd and 3rd place winners will be chosen weekly.

This competition is open to all ages. Children under 13 must have an adult submit their art piece.

Art can be submitted through this google form. If you have any questions please contact Hannah Barg, the CWEP Education and Outreach Coordinator at hbarg@tjcog.org.

Program Spotlight: OWASA’s Care to Share

Access to clean water is especially important for sanitation and survival during a pandemic, when frequent hand washing and spending more time at home have become a part of daily routine. Since the onset of COVID-19 in North Carolina and across the globe, Orange Water and Sewer Authority (OWASA) has seen a 73% increase in past due water bills as well as an increase in household water usage. While OWASA has currently suspended disconnections for non-payments, they anticipate that customers without a steady or adequate source of income will continue to struggle with on-time payments moving forward.

OWASA’s Care to Share program provides water bill payment assistance through a partnership with the Inter-Faith Council for Social Service (IFC). Each month, paying customers have the option to add a few extra dollars to their bill that are donated to the Care to Share program. IFC helps to identify households who may benefit from Care to Share and distribute the collected funds to participants. Currently, about 5% of OWASA customers contribute monthly donations to the Care to Share program.

Care to Share (previously called Taste of Hope) has existed in some form since 1997 and has served as a model for other communities and utilities across the Triangle region to institute similar programs. As the need for water bill assistance increases, there is also a push to provide more funding and structure for water bill assistance programs at both the state and national government level.

OWASA customers can sign up to donate through their water bill here. Anyone can also make a direct donation to the Care to Share program through IFC here.

learn more at OWASA’s website: https://www.owasa.org/help-my-neighbor-care-to-share/

CWEP BioThon and Tips for new iNaturalist users

CWEP is hosting an iNaturalist Spring BioThon for all partner communities from May 19-June 19, 2020. Join us in exploring our local watersheds! If you live in a CWEP community, your iNaturalist observations will automatically populate in the BioThon project, but you can also join the project by following the link above and clicking the “join” option in the top right corner, shown below:

Follow CWEP on social media (twitter and instagram: CWEP_nc; facebook: NC Clean Water Education Partnership) for leader board updates and a chance to win a handmade prize.

Have you ever heard of the iNaturalist app? iNaturalist is a crowdsourced species identification system and social media platform designed to showcase local flora and fauna observations. Users collect photo and audio observations that upload onto an online database where other users can help with identification. iNaturalist is a helpful tool to get to know the plants and animals that live in your watershed, and view observations by others.

Just created an iNaturalist account and downloaded the app? Click here to learn how to create a post using an iPhone, Android, or computer.

Tips for New iNaturalist Users

  • iNaturalist most easily integrates with a smartphone, but photographs taken on a camera instead can also be uploaded to the iNaturalist website. When using a camera, try to keep track of where certain species were seen as best you can, as you will be asked to add the location of the photo when you upload your observations.
  • Consider taking photos with your phone or camera and uploading to iNaturalist later. This gives you time to properly ID species when you have access to WiFi, ID guides, or more time to look through options using the app. If you go this route, remember to make sure that your phone location services are on so that the location will upload with the photo into the iNaturalist app.
  • Familiarize yourself with species nearby by looking at posts that others have made. You can do this using the “explore” tab in the app or on the webpage
  • If you are unsure about an exact species ID, opt for a more general identification such as genus or family. Others in the iNaturalist community can then help narrow it down to species.
  • Try to crop photos close to the subject for easier identification by the iNaturalist app and community.

Free Apps to Help with Species ID

Animals/General:

  • Seek: Created by the same developers as iNaturalist, this app will compare your photo with other observations from the same area to find a more accurate ID.

Birds:

  • Audubon: This virtual field guide is similar to Merlin but also helps you ID a bird from its call, habitat, tail shape, and wing shape.
  • Merlin Bird ID: Using features such as bird behavior, coloring, and size, this app can help narrow down the possible options for IDing a sighting. This app also has a photo ID feature if you can get close enough to snap a picture.

Plants:

  • Leafsnap: A collaboration between Columbia University, the University of Maryland and the Smithsonian Institution, this app will let you ID plants and trees using photos of their flowers and leaves.

Fungi:

  • Mushroom Identificator: This app helps ID mushrooms by having the user take several photos of the same species and comparing them to species within the guide.

Happy collecting! If you have any additional questions or concerns, feel free to reach out to the CWEP team via our contact page.

Biking the Watershed

During this time of social distancing and working from home, we have had some beautiful weather! A few weekends ago, I ventured out to explore the Neuse River Basin via 25 mile bikeride. As a new resident of North Carolina, I was impressed with Raleigh’s greenway system which follows several tributaries of the Neuse.

I began my journey along the Crabtree Creek Trail. Crabtree Creek starts in Cary and flows through Lake Crabtree County Park, Umstead State Park and sections of North Raleigh before eventually joining the Neuse near Knightdale. The Crabtree flows through a rapidly developing area in a historic flood plain, which means that even light rains can cause the creek to flood. Evidence of this along the Crabtree Creek Trail include several washouts where sediment has been deposited.

The Crabtree Creek Trail joins with the Neuse River Trail at Anderson Point Park. This was a busy section of trail due to proximity to parking and residential areas. I took a quick rest stop at Anderson Point Park to enjoy the view.

The Neuse River Trail joins up with the Walnut Creek Trail where the Walnut Creek flows into the Neuse River. This section of trail was the most adventurous and scenic, featuring several roller-coaster like bridges and boardwalks that run through the Walnut Creek Wetland Center, Lake Johnson Park, and Worthdale Park. A few lookouts along the way are great places to stop and search for waterfowl, turtles, and other wildlife.

The last section of my bikeride was on the Rocky Branch Trail, which weaves amoung neighborhoods, wooded areas, and more urban stretches. This trail takes you through Dix Park and ends with a gorgeous view of the Raleigh skyline.

This short weekend adventure helped me see my watershed with new eyes. I gained a new appreciation for the role that greenways play in protecting our state’s water resources, connecting folks to outdoor spaces, and managing stormwater. If you’re interested in learning more about the positive benefits of greenways, you can explore The Impact of Greenways in the Triangle document written by the East Coast Greenway Alliance.

How have you been exploring your watershed during social distancing? Drop a comment in the box to the left to share your story with us.

Water-Based Distance Learning Activities

With the increase amount of school, workplace, library, and community space closures, you might be looking for some ideas to pass the time with your children. Here are some water-based/ STEM activities to pass the time while learning about water.

  •  Go on a water scavenger hunt! Using the image below, make a checklist or take photos of the following items to keep track of what you find!

water scavenger hunt

  • Sidewalk water painting. Sidewalk painting can happen with paint brushes and water, too! Watch in fascination as your designs disappear slowly because of evaporation. This is a great opportunity to begin teaching younger children about the wonders of the water cycle. This activity is best done on a sunny day.
  • Is it raining outside? Take your child on a rainy day walk! Follow the water from the gutters to see where it ends up. What did you find along the way?
  • Teach your child about the water cycle using their bodies through water cycle yoga. Visit this link if you need some inspiration for how to facilitate it!

water cycle yoga

(Image Courtesy of Durham Hub Farm)

  • Make your own mini water cycle using a to-go or old food container with a clear top. Fill the container with rocks, grass, plants, and other found items, mist with a bit of water, set in the sun, and see what happens!
  • Does your child like to color and read? Learn about stormwater runoff with the Stormwater Sleuth and Running Rain activity book put together by University of Nebraska- Extension. This activity book is geared towards 4th-8th grade students.

For a complete list of activities and online resources, please visit the new Distance Learning page

The Soak-Spread-Slow Stormwater Song

If you’re at home in some rainy weather, take a listen to CWEP’s new song to learn about how we can help improve the stormwater!

The bolded words are terms that you can learn more about in future blog posts and social media posts- stay tuned!

What motions can you make up to go along with the lyrics? Feel free to post in the comments on the left.

Stormwater Song Lyrics

Where does the water go

When it falls from the clouds to down below

All that rain eventually

Flows from here into the sea

and we can play a part

to help the rain depart

Acting like a sponge, to soak it up, to soak it up

Stretching out our arms to spread it out, to
spread it out

Moving like a snail to slow it down, to slow it down

These are things we do to help improve

The stormwater

Where does the water flow

When it has nowhere else to go?

All that rain from the roof and street

Goes down the storm drain and to the creek

And we can play a part

To help the rain depart

Because when it rains it pours

but the trees and grass can soak it up

rain barrels for sure

can help collect and spread it out

And if there’s even more

rain gardens can slow it down

These are things we do to help improve

the stormwater

Be Good to the Critters: Don’t Litter!

February flowers bring March showers, and March showers sweep litter into our streams. This means spring is the perfect season to get involved in litter prevention, awareness and education in your community. Here are 5 ways you can get involved:

Volunteer at a litter clean up. Clean Jordan Lake, Keep Durham Beautiful, and Wake County Waste and Recycling are a few examples of organizations who host spring clean ups in the Triangle. 

Host your own creek clean up. Not sure if your community has a clean up? Create your own! Stream Watch is a state-wide community science initiative where groups plan two creek clean ups/water quality monitoring events per year. Contact our stormwater education specialist at cwep@tjcog.org for help picking a safe site, learning how to use the online surveys, and assistance with hosting your first event.

Learn about what happens to your waste. Did you know that Durham and Orange Counties truck their trash over 90 miles away to Montgomery County? Find out what happens to waste in your community by contacting your local government and planning a field trip to your landfill or recycling facility, or check out their website to see if there’s a video.

Promote litter prevention in schools. In Baltimore Maryland, a school-wide ban on styrofoam started by 2 high school students eventually led to a state-wide ban. Organizations like Don’t Waste Durham encourage K-12 education on litter prevention through action projects and volunteering. 

Educate yourself so that you can educate others. Chatham County Solid Waste and Recycling just rolled out a new “Don’t Waste It” curriculum for formal and non-formal K-12 educators. Head over to the department page to find out about upcoming workshops or request one near you. 

Do you have other ideas about how to prevent waste in your community? We would love to hear from you! Drop a comment in the box below or contact CWEP for more information.IMG-7442CWEP member Hannah helping out at a Clean Jordan Lake cleanup this past fall.

Learning More from Annual Reports

New to CWEP? Looking for information for your stormwater permit reporting? Look no further! Released annually in late August, CWEP’s Annual Reports summarize and describe the prior fiscal year’s stormwater education and outreach accomplishments.

Links to recent Annual Reports are always available on the Annual Reports page, under the “About CWEP” tab, starting with the most recent FY19 report. Stay tuned for the next one in August 2020, and in the meantime, we hope to see you at our Quarterly Meetings!